Game on at National Videogame Arcade, Nottingham
Stuck for an attraction that the whole family will enjoy? Your kids will cheer when I suggest gaming related fun. But before you start dreaming up reasons to stay in and wash your hair, let me tell you a little more about the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham. Because whether or not you realise it, gaming is part of your past. And you might find a brief immersion surprisingly nostalgic…
Game on for all the family
My children are scattered over three floors. Last time I looked, one was on a bucking bronco in the shape of a heart. Another was lying in a coffin wearing Oculus Rift headgear. The third was… well I lost the third somewhere between console and cabinet.
But then I’m not really thinking about them. In the museum section of this five storey maze-like building, a blocky Space Invader cabinet remembers the 70’s and 80’s in a familiar shade of green. And I remember my youth, when I too was green and a bit square. I am back in Cornwall aged 16. I am firing a laser cannon into a bunker to impress a guy. I am blasting that spaceship out of the galaxy. And I still don’t get the boy. From his point of view, it is, most definitely, a single player game.
The universal gaming centre
Of course compared to today’s gaming systems, this is toddler stuff. Back at home Matthew spends most nights fighting whole teams of warlords on twin screens while commenting, filming himself, watching series 3 of Game of Thrones and going shopping for new armour. But the major selling point about this centre (if you need to sell it to your family at all) is that it accommodates every level and variety of enthusiast. Even those, like me, who don’t realise they are a gamer until they step foot through the door.
I’m not sure how many over 50’s would agree to jump into the coffin. It’s a bit too close to the future for comfort. But then, the coffin isn’t a permanent fixture. By coincidence we’ve come to this Nottingham city centre attraction during GameCity, a festival week where game developers from all over the UK and further afield congregate to celebrate, swap notes on and demonstrate the latest technology, design and thinking in the gaming world. Gaming is all about sharing according to Laura Browne, Development Manager at The National Videogame Arcade who shows us around.
“This is the first time videogames have come of an age where there can be inter-generational bonding. This centre is about social engineering, education and having a really good time in a cross generational way. It’s really big with families. There are lots of different access points. You could bring your Gran who likes the Kindle and she could join and share.”
The room the oldies particularly enjoy is the History of Videogames in 100 Objects where cabinets contain regularly rotating displays of ‘old’ gaming technology. “There’s a lot of male bonding that goes on in our museum room. You do get people of a certain age getting quite emotional over a joystick. They say ‘Oh I used to play that game!’ and then share it with their children.”
If you are surprised that the centre is situated in Nottingham, where you’d expect to bump into Robin Hood not Super Mario then you shouldn’t be.
“The East Midlands has rich history of game development.” says Laura, reminding me that this is the birthplace of Lara Croft. “Tomb Raiders, Eureka and many other games were made here. Games Workshop is also here. Nottingham has a really interesting cultural DIY scene where there is collaboration of art forms and technology. Quite fertile ground for game making.” Laura tells me the tech community here is expanding really rapidly. “We host 24 hour hacks and that community has grown from 15 people to three hundred people in the last year and a half. It’s a very creative city across all of the digital arts and music as well.”
The annual GameCity festival is responsible for a substantial part of the city’s gaming reputation. It is one of the biggest video games festivals in the world, launching new games and demonstrating the thinking behind them and for the last week Guardian Online has been resident in the coffee bar. The Arcade also has a sprinkling of industry stardust from it’s Co-Director Jonathan Smith who is a Lego games developer. As we wander around we meet some of the emerging developers. When you chat to them you realise how much artistic and technical knowledge goes into the seemingly simple bash and dash.
A misunderstood world
In fact there are all sorts of misconceptions about gaming. Think of a gamer and you’ll probably access a mental image of an isolated teen boy shouting at a computer in a darkened bedroom. (Or is that just my house?) YouTube gaming star PewDiePie’s stream of conscious banter and online play only reinforces this. But its believed over 50 per cent of gamers are girls, with many of them playing on their phones. And parents like me are often blinkered when it comes to opportunities in the industry. “We work with musicians, composers, designers, graphic artists and software technicians,” says Laura. “We also partner with the University and have a number of different PhD and research projects going on at any one time.
Ground to mission control
But we’re not here for work. We’re here to have fun. I make my way over to Pac-Man while the kids fight it out at mission control, a huge machine where anyone can customise the game by introducing different characters and dropping new ideas in. There’s a have a go’ vibe wherever you go here. You are invited to test games, play games and review games. All cables and machinery are exposed so you can see the components, and the point of the staff is to chat and educate and play. Most people stay for four or five hours. “Our galleries are packed with old games, new games, games that we’ve made and games that try to encourage everybody to think about what a game is. No one is made to feel like an idiot or given a controller and expected to know what to do. We’re all about encouraging people to get involved,” says Laura. And with 22,000 people through the doors in the first six months, it’s doing just that.
Find out more
If you’d like to know more about Centre and what it offers watch this video we made while visiting. It shows you around while Laura explains more about what you can expect. Then visit the GameCity website. Or better still go check it out for yourself. It could change your mind about gaming.
Disclosure: We were hosted on our visit to Nottingham by Experience Nottinghamshire. But all opinions, gaming skill (or lack of) and Space Invader memories are very much our own.